College of Charleston
The heart of "esotericism" has long been centered around the belief that certain spiritual (or religious) teachings are best transmitted to others only after sufficient preparation and initiatic training. Such preparations are regarded as requiring long periods of discipline and often special empowerment rituals. Historically, such knowledge has not been accessible in popular formats nor readily available for study without membership in a relatively small circle of usually male practitioners. Further, esoteric traditions have tended to develop often in contrast to more orthodox and "external" paternal religions whose orthodox members have tended to regard esotericism with some suspicion and, at times, have attacked such societies with strategies of repression. Such tactics suggest an additional layer of meaning in the concept of "esoteric" as teachings or practices that resist orthodox interpretations and are "hidden" because of issues of political or religious persecution. A third meaning of the term stems from an extrapolation of this tension between the "known" or commonly accepted orthodoxy of a religious tradition and the "unknown" (or institutionally unrecognized) teachings or practices of various esoteric groups within that religious tradition. The status or such groups is often marginalized by the refusal of the parent religion to recognize the legitimacy of various non-conventional interpretations or practices. In the third sense, esoteric means "unsanctioned" or "unrecognized" by majority practitioners of a local conventional religious tradition.
Often these three aspects of esotericism intersect, creating a group mentality that is hierarchical (thus initiations are given in stages, from masters to disciples), socially secretive (because of disruptive pressures from more orthodox factions of a related major tradition) and relatively unknown or marginalized by a conservative majority.
Another aspect of esotericism is the problem of "elitism" or the tendency for esoteric schools to emphasize adherence to core doctrines that are intellectually sophisticated but requisite for advancement into the "advanced" circles of that school. In turn, this tends to reinforce tensions between in-group and out-group members who do or do not conform to the intellectual or emotional expectations of the core membership. The authoritative structures of esotericism have revolved around the experiences of the founder, the elaboration of teachings and practices based on foundational experience presented in a "graded" advancement, the sanctioning of advanced members who have reduplicated the requisite experiences, the training of members in various types of arcane lore, and the conferring of status titles on those considered to have mastered the full teachings of the school. Thus esotericism may be defined in terms of either its external social relations and tensions with parent religious traditions, its place within a larger cultural context often ignorant or dismissive of esoteric concerns, or its internal sanctioning processes by which members become fully fledged masters of their school.
The issue of experience is crucial to many esoteric traditions, particularly those whose emphasis has been on the affirmation of mystical forms of spirituality. For example, in Islam, many schools of Sufism fit the above descriptions of esotericism. While outwardly, Islam has been a highly structured religious tradition, orthodox divisions, both Sunni and Shi'ite, have exhibited tension and conflict with many schools of Sufism, including the persecution of Sufi teachers (1). Similar observations can be made as well for Christianity and the persecution of mystics and members of esoteric societies by Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant clergies (2). There is tension between Orthodox or Conservative Judaism and followers of Jewish Kabbalah or Hasidism (3). These tensions often revolve around the question of authority and who has the right to sanction or recognize the validity of any member's religious experiences. Many esoteric traditions have embraced processes of internalization by which external religious beliefs are broken down and revalidated through progressive experiences often of an emotional, symbolic, and visionary nature. In turn, this has often led to new esoteric formulations critical of existing institutional beliefs or traditional doctrines.
Tensions Within Contemporary Esotericism
The tensions between intellectual beliefs (or faith) as defined by institutionalized traditional authorities and religious experiences of the individual as a member of an esoteric group are particularly acute when institutional religions are meshed with political authority. In European esoteric traditions, the role of the Catholic church has been highly aggressive in resisting esoteric groups who sought to legitimize their spiritual practices through the internalization of non-traditional symbols, experiences, and alternative lines of initiatic authority. The Catholic destruction and violent persecution of the Cathars is a painful reminder of this process, as was the destruction of the Templars, sanctioned by the Church, or the many persons (and small groups) send to the stake for engaging in "esoteric" or "non-orthodox" beliefs or practices, often labeled as "pagan" or "heretical". From a "Western" historical perspective, the history of esotericism is inseparable from a history of persecution and mainstream institutional criticism by orthodox religionists (Catholics and Protestants, for example, writing against the Rosicrucians) who deny the value and importance of maintaining viable, non-orthodox spiritual views or alternative spiritual associations. Much of Western esotericism has been driven by a tense and often conflictual relationship with institutionalized religious authority (4).
Esotericism in such a context is not simply about spiritual or religious views or practices; it is also about the survival and maintenance of unique spiritual values in the face of conventional persecution or dismissal by orthodox religious thinkers. Another counterstream in this context is the rationalist embrace of materialism and technoscience as another "orthodoxy" antagonistic to "esoteric spirituality" which does not fit current models of skeptical, atheistic humanism or biocognitive "epiphenomenal" theories of mind or consciousness. In such a context, individuals who pursue alternative visions of spiritual empowerment through esoteric means must often resist cross currents that would dismiss or deny the validity of all or any type of esoteric spirituality.
Tightly woven traditions of intellectual esotericism, as well as more loosely woven strands of popular esotericism, have successfully resisted various kinds of social orthodoxy but often at the cost of severing themselves from a broader, global and international perspective of spirituality. In turn, this has resulted in a widening gap between traditional religious institutions and alternative spiritual communities or associations which often have no connection with any traditional religion (5).
Other models for understanding esoteric spirituality abound in Eastern religious traditions that are increasingly penetrating into Western social and cultural environments. Many of these "Eastern" models are being adapted to Euro-American cultural and social environments, resulting in the emergence of new forms of esotericism, neither conventionally Eastern or Western. And religious models within Christianity are also impacting Eastern religions and opening the doors for emergent forms of esotericism no longer bound by ethnocentric histories of persecution or intellectual dismissal. This rich, fertile exchange of spiritual perspectives has resulted in a broadening of the concept of esotericism to increasingly embrace a multispiritual pluralism whose roots connect with religious traditions on a global basis. Buddhism can no longer be confined to Tibet, Japan, or southeast Asia but is increasingly part of Euro-American religious thought. Various forms of Christian spirituality have begun to embrace Eastern religious ideas and practices, for example the teachings of the Christian-yogic guru Bede Griffiths or the yogic-gnosticism of Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet, while devotees of the Indian God Krishna can be found in major American and European cities (6). In this context esotericism takes on a whole new dimension of meaning no longer connected to parent religious traditions in a local sense. The increasingly rapid exchange of views, the sharing of knowledge on a global basis (aided by electronic technologies) has increased the accessibility of esoteric texts and facilitated the formation of emergent global networks dedicated to esoteric studies.
But esoteric in what sense? In the headlong rush to communicate, much is in danger of being lost at the very same time that new horizons are opening through increased accessibility and sharing. Yet the older core of esotericism, stripped of its political and conflictual tensions with parent religious traditions and no longer burdened by gender discriminations, still offers several key structural contents for more recent esotericism. First, there is a concern to unfold a spiritual teaching in a progressive, step by step manner (even where spontaneity is emphasized) that leads to new insights and awareness. The "esoteric" dimension of that process is elaborated in a series of gradual revelation, or progressive insights, leading to desired realizations of spiritual truth. In order to facilitate this process, sometimes elaborate rituals, ceremonial initiations, moral and ethical training, physical disciplines, and inner development techniques are taught over a sustained period of learning as preparatory to attaining the goals of the group. This is certainly true for AMORC, OTO, Masons, and contemporary Rosicrucians but it is also true for various schools of Tibetan Tantra, Zen, Hindu Vedanta, New Light Taoism, a variety of martial arts such as T'ai Chi and Aikido, as well as for a large number of Western Yoga schools, all of which claim to offer esoteric spiritual direction for human development (7). All these are readily availible in the contemporary European and American cultural scene and they are here as long term expressions of age old traditions.
Another key structural aspect of contemporary esotericism is the concept of "initiatic grace" or the transfer of power or special ability from a teacher to a student. This inner structural process of esoteric transmission of understanding occurs not only through the simply learning of intellectual ideas or the mastery of a certain vocabulary or external ritual behavior. The transmission is itself a medium of spiritual affirmation, an "awakening" by which the recipient comes to fully value the reality of that which is transmitted, subtly, silently, profoundly. This empowerment is seen as a psychic or soulful realization of fluid currents and emanations that constitute a more illumined state of awareness or a more empowered state of being. Often these currents are related to cosmic entities, sometimes mythicized and sometimes not, whose value is expressed in symbols
of unification or harmonic wholeness. This kind of thinking and initiatic instruction can be seen not only in "Western and Eastern" traditions, as in Sufi, Hasidic, or Yogic circles, but also is very evident in many forms of tribal or indigenous religions. This contemporary expression in native traditions adds a rich vocabulary and technical expertise to the processes of "esotericism" as related to the natural world (8). In many contemporary indigenous circles, knowledge is transmitted through a direct "laying on of hands" or through other esoteric means, such as an eagle feather or ceremonial use of sacred cedar and sage.
A third key structural aspect of esotericism is found in its relationship to unique and special theologies whose cosmic dimensions are highly personalized. Contemporary esotericism certainly includes Neo-Paganism, Mother Goddess worship, various Wiccan and Magical ritual groups whose views of nature involve an often radical repersonalization of the physical world (9). Often, this repersonalization goes hand in hand with a refeminization of the world as in the popular Gaia hypothesis or as in the rediscovery of Sophianic mystical presence uniquely expressed in concepts of the world-soul or the globalization of consciousness (10). Feminist influences have heightened the creative role of sexuality and a more woman-centered spirituality in such esoteric groups (11). In these groups there is often a new communal spirit that is emphatically emotional and tied to ceremonial gathering, musical expression and intensive communal participation. Certain indigenous rites are being freely incorporated into various esoteric communal rituals, for example the sweat lodge or vision quest (12). In turn these gatherings act as a catalyst to challenge existing social roles, isolated individualism, and overly intellectualized and abstract cognitive approaches to spirituality. On a similar spectrum, Christian spiritualists, mediums, spirit-centered ecstatic communities and churches, like the Four Square Church, or the teaching of Christian esoteric masters such as Peter Deunov or his famous disciple, Mikhail Aivanhov, all have their own esoteric theories of what constitutes spiritual awakening in the modern world, often deeply influenced by Eastern religious traditions or nature traditions such as
various aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism or Chinese Daoism (13).
A fourth structural principle in many esoteric circles is the incorporation of physical disciplines borrowed from various Yogic, Buddhist, and Tantric movement-visualization schools. Meditation, recitation of sacred names, the use of ritual implements and drawings, arcane gestures, combined with visualization techniques has become very widespread in the European and American esoteric scene. The Kundalini system from ancient Indian Shakti schools is pervasively used to symbolize internal transformations and the opening of various internal psychic centers that lead progressively toward higher states of illumination and various forms of occult knowledge (14). Ancient Vedic technique of medicine and healing are offered as esoteric means for spiritual well being in highly popular formats (15). Literally hundreds of volumes on Buddhist esotericism and Buddhist internal yoga, as well as works on "higher and lower" Tantra are now accessible and being taught in various Buddhist centers in the West as well as whole philosophies dedicated to healing all forms of "suffering" as understood from a Buddhist perspective (16). Many of these teachings include a central emphasis on reincarnation (and the retributive influence of past actions on present events) that is restructuring the long-term efficacy of contemporary esoteric practices (17). Such theories are no longer being filtered through Western teachers but are increasingly being taught by highly advanced practitioners of the mainstream Eastern traditions.
Another structural aspect of contemporary esotericism is its recasting of cosmological perceptions and beliefs as impacted by theories in modern science. Physics, astronomy, medicine, and biological sciences have added whole new vocabularies to esoteric teachings (18). These theories are infiltrating the thought world of many esoteric schools, radically revising older and more static cosmologies (19). Eastern spiritual teachers, with Western education like Sri Aurobindo, have had a powerful impact on this process, offering their own unique version of the intersection of yogic disciplines, higher consciousness and human evolution (20). Research in altered states of consciousness and
transpersonal healing has broadened the spectrum of possible states of cognition and mystical experience (21). Research in esoteric areas like lucid dreaming, out-of-body experience, life-after-death, have all added tremendous wealth and resources to esoteric schools of thought. Chaos theory, quantum physics, new astronomical discoveries, an increasing awareness of the complexity of energetic order and multidimensionality of sub-atomic physics, and holographic models of creative process have all added to the complexity of esoteric thought (22). Increasingly, syncretic works are being written that open new dialogues between spirituality, science, and esoteric traditions (23).
Non-Western Historical Influences on Esotericism
To better appreciate the complexity of non-Western religious influences on Western esoteric traditions, I want to give a brief overview of European and American historical encounters with Eastern religions that have resulted in a reshaping of esotericism in the present. My perspective on this influence is that the importation of "exotic" religions into Western cultural settings has made those religions attractive to esotericists as potential resources for reformulating esoteric thought and practice. It is not the "esoteric" elements per se of those traditions as understood by non-Western religious practitioners but the very difference and uniqueness of those traditions that has stimulated esoteric thought and reformulations. This is particularly true in the early stages of contact. In later stages of contact, Western esotericists have become aficionados of Eastern lore and practice (often through initiation and special training) and are increasingly more sophisticated in identifying the inner teachings or actual esoteric aspects of the distinctive traditions. In this process, there is a tension between those Westerners who adopt various Eastern religious practices or ideas and actual ethnic members of those traditions who come to the West to represent their religious worldview as esoteric masters or teachers.
The history of Eastern religious influences has long been recognized as an "oriental" influence in Western thought and culture, though
the construct of "orientalism" has often referenced Middle Eastern cultures and Islam in particular as its primary locus. However, this locus has been largely a matter of "exotic" elements of culture, history and literature than of any direct religious influences (24). It is perhaps useful to remember Raymond Schwab's comment about prejudicial attitudes toward Eastern influences in Europe. He identifies three: that Oriental thought has made no impact on European thought, that influences from India did not affect Europeans until after 1850, and that Egyptian influence was more significant than that of India or China. Schwab then shows how all three of these attitudes are false and contradicted by the history and popularity of oriental ideas in Europe and the "totally erroneous" idea that Egyptian influence was more significant (25). It is important to note in this context that as early as 1687, a French Jesuit Latin translation of the teaching of Confucius (Le Morale de Confucius) was printed in three volumes and an English translation made and published in England as early as 1691 (26). Also in 1691, the French envoy of King Louis XIV to Siam was able to discuss and publish on Buddhist ideas, such as Nirvana ("Nireupan"), which he defines with remarkable accuracy as "not a place but a way of being...the soul has disappeared...it is neither true annihilation nor the acquisition of a divine nature" (27).
By the early 18th century, manuscripts were being solicited from the Jesuits for the French "Académie des Inscriptions" in Paris under the direction of Abbé Bignon (royal librarian to Louis XIV). Bignon was able to have Etienne Fourmont, then engaged in cataloguing over 5,000 Chinese texts in the Académie, translate a page of Tibetan (1724) for Peter the Great using a Tibetan-Latin dictionary complied by the head of Capucian mission to Lhasa in c. 1720 (28). In 1727, the first book in English to describe Japanese Buddhism (Zen and Jodo Shinshu or "Pure Land") was published in London by Engelbert Kaempfer (29). By 1733, the Jesuits published in Lettres édifiantes (for European readers, written in India) that they had assembled a "complete" Indian Veda and in 1731 a copy of the Rig Veda, one of the oldest Indian texts, was placed in the Académie. By 1733, over 168 India items, including many Upanishads and other "Vedic literature" were sent to France by Jesuit missionaries.
By 1740, a basic Sanskrit grammar and dictionary was translated, preceded by alphabetic transliterations as early as 1663; from this point onward, European scholars would increasingly improve and expand their knowledge of Eastern texts and "oriental" philosophies (30). In 1761, M. De Guignes published his translation of a Chinese voyage to Fu-Sang (in 458 CE) which he identified as Mexico, peopled by the Maya Indians, thereby popularizing an esoteric theory of Asian influences in the New World (31).In 1762, Italian Capuchin Antonio Giorgi published Alphabetum Tibetanum Missionum Apostolicarum (a Latin-Tibetan dictionary of 35,000 words) based on works of Capuchin Father Francesco Orazio della Penna (who lived and studied in Tibet from 1716-1732) (32).
The culmination of this incipient interest in India by European intellectuals was the first English translation from the Sanskrit of the great Indian religious classic, Bhagvat-Geeta or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon by Charles Wilkins in 1785 (33). This work was published under the auspices of the newly formed Asiatik Society of Bengal (1784) formed by Sir William Jones, a linguistic scholar who was appointed as a judge-advocate of the English Supreme Court in India. Jones contributed significantly to the importation of English translations of classic Indian religious text and literature, publishing translations of Shakuntala (1789), Gita Govinda (1792), Institutes of Hindu Law (Manava Dharmashastra or "Laws of Manu," 1794) and as well other general works on "Brahmanism and Hinduism," linguistic terms popularized by Jones. The Asiatic Society thus became the principle organizer for publication on research in Asian religions and published in Asiatic Researches: Transactions of the Society (1778) many seminal articles in various areas of Eastern culture, religion, and literature thus disseminating Eastern religious ideas into Europe, England and America (34).Jones was also one of the first English scholars to claim in print that the origins of Greek classical philosophy of "the old Academy, the Stoa, the Lyceum" was drawn from the "same fountain" as that of the Vedanta and the teachings of the "sages of India" (and those of Tibet), thus initiating a view later developed in esotericism as the "transcendent unity" of world religions (35)
In 1795, L'Ecole des Langues Orientale Vivantes was established in the Collège de France signifying the rising interest in Eastern cultures and led to the appointment of chairs in a variety of Eastern languages over the next 30 years.
However, this interest in Asian and Oriental culture and religion can be traced back much further than the rise of its study within various European intellectual circles prompted by advancing 17th and 18th century colonialism. There is no doubt that the very formative roots of Western Esotericism drew some nourishment from not only "oriental" Islamic ideas but also from those of India. Though this influence is relatively minor, nevertheless, there is a history of connection and reference that has yet to be fully researched or developed. I will mention only a few such cases. Indian contact with the Greeks can be traced back to Alexander the Great, establishing trade and exchange between the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East (Persian), and India. The classic narrative of this relationship is found in the Life of Apollonius of Tyana (recorded by Philostratus, c. 220 CE). Apollonius journeyed to India to study at the sacred hill of the Indian "wise men marked with a crescent on their foreheads". When Apollonius (d. 98 CE) was asked about why he came on such a long journey, he replied "Your ways are wiser and much more godly", clearly indicating a classic Greek respect for Indian thought at the time of Roman Philostratus (36).Another example, far more significant, is that of the teachings of the Persian religious leader, Mani (c. 245 CE). According to Mani's teachings, the Apostles of Light sent by Jesus to redeem humanity included the Buddha and Manichaeism is distinctively influenced by Buddhist ideas, such as Mani representing himself as the Buddha to come, Maitreya (37).In esoteric circles, Iranian syncretic religions (such as those of Kushan) came to be regarded as influenced by both Greco-Roman and Indo-Iranian ideas, ideas that have carried over into the history of various forms of Western Esotericism but are little studied (38).
One of the significant esoteric teachings contained in the Life of Apollonius, recorded as a teaching of the Indian sages, is that on
reincarnation. When Apollonius asks about the nature of the soul, he is told that, like Pythagoras and Plato, human beings live many lives in diverse bodies based on past actions. Further, the Indian sages claim that this teaching which was taught to the Greek philosophers in Egypt was transmitted to the Egyptians by ancient Rishis' of India who migrated to north Africa (Ethiopia) from the Ganges River basin (39). The belief in reincarnation or metempsychosis has very ancient roots in India and is the probably source of that belief in the classical period of formative Gnosticism (40). Gnostic teachers such as Basilides propagated the idea along with other groups such as the Carpocratians and Ophites, and it was popular among various Neoplatonists such as Alcinous, as well as taught by the archetypal magician, Simon Magus. It was also taught by Mani as the fate of the "Hearers" who did not attain perfection (41).Gnostic texts such as the Zostrianos, The Treatise on Resurrection, and the later Pistis Sophia further propagated idea of reincarnation for the "inpenitent soul" that it might try again to attain the goal of liberation from worldly life (42). Thus a very early Indian influence in Western Esotericism may have roots in the spread and popularity of ideas of reincarnation, also found in early elements of Christianity but later repressed.
Another "oriental" influence is that found in the Western alchemical traditions, deeply influenced by Islamic spiritual practices and philosophies. The entire history of alchemy passes through Islamic alchemical traditions, inherited from the Greeks, but is infused with Islamic spiritual ideas regarding the alchemical processes. Jabir ibn Hayyan (fl. c. 760 CE), later known as Gerber (in Latin), a Persian Sufi living in southern Arabia, was believed to be the author of many alchemical text, showing a clear attribution to "oriental wisdom" in the transmission of alchemy to the Medieval west. The mystical style of the Jabir corpus reflects many Sufi ideas and may have been authored by the Iranian brethren of Purity (c. 1100). However, one text, the Kitab Sirr al-Khaliqa wa San`at al-Tabi`a (Book of the Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature), attributed to Jabir, c. 800, who in fact attributes this text to Apollonius of Tyana, is the basis for the single most popular text in Western Hermeticism, translated into Latin (1140) as the Tabula Smaragdina (Emerald Tablet) (43)
This text, transiting from Greek to Syriac, to Arabic, to Latin and finally to modern European languages, is a symbolic testimony to the interweaving of classical, "oriental" and later European alchemical and hermetic thought. The very term alchemy (al-kimia) is, of course, Arabic transmitted from the Greek (chemeia) and carries with it a fusion of Greek and Arabic ideas, as expressed in the famous, influential alchemical text, the Turba Philosophorum ("Conference of Philosophers," c. 900 CE, translated in to Latin by the 13th century) which combines pre-Socratic philosophy with Islamic-Sufi ideas (44). Maslama ibn Ahmad's The Aim of the Wise was translated into Spanish and Latin, where it became known as Picatrix (1256). Many other Arabic influences (Razi, Avicenna, and so on) can be traced in the history of western alchemy, stemming particularly from the 7th through the 11th centuries (45).
Ideas of reincarnation reassert themselves in Medieval groups influenced by Gnostic and Manichaean teachings, possibly through oral traditions, such as those found among the Cathars (transmitted by the Bulgarian Bogomils), ideas brutally repressed by the newly formed Inquisition (46).Such ideas, while repressed, nevertheless retain their vitality and resurface in a wide variety of belief systems in Renaissance esotericism, including the "oriental" influences found in Kabbalah and ideas such as gilgul (reincarnation) transmitted by Jewish Kabbalist of Safed (Isaac Luria) in Palestine (47). Further "oriental" influence can be found among the Knights Templars who travel to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and there learn of "eastern" wisdom traditions such as those taught by the Mazdeans, a possible source of Middle Eastern esotericism transmitted to Europe through the Crusades. Another area needing investigation is that of the Grail traditions and the ways in which those traditions may have been influenced by "oriental" lore brought back from the Crusades (48). For example, Jean Markale suggests Buddhist-Manichaean influences in Wolfram's Parzival (49).
Dante's Commedia (1302) may well have been influenced by Islamic lore, such as the "Night Journey" of the prophet Muhummud and the many heavenly journeys of Sufi mystics as the archetype of Virgil's journey into the lower and upper worlds, a basic spiritual paradigm for Western Esotericism (50).
From the Renaissance period of the retranslation of the Corpus Hermeticum (found in Byzantium, the "east") into Latin by Marsilio Ficino (1471) to the above mentioned Académie des Inscriptions (1720s), there is a slow but continual referencing of "oriental" cultures and literatures as sources for esoteric thought and practice. The long enduring presence of Muslim conquerors in Spain and the interactive history of the reconquest, strongly suggests the pivotal influence of Islamic religious ideas in a European context. Jewish Kabbalah and its offshoot, Christian Kabbalah (or Cabala) shows many such Oriental-Islamic influences, for example the Islamic idea of the sacred, revelatory text (Qur'an, translated into Latin by 1144) written in an esoteric language and known only to the elect (e. g., in Kabbalah, The Zohar) (51).All forms of Jewish Sepharadim Kabbalah (North African and Palestinian) might be seen, in totality, as an "oriental" influence that has had a profound impact of the development of many ideas within Western Esotericism. Pico della Mirandola (d. 1494), as the first Christian Kabbalist, certainly introduces "oriental" ideas in his 900 theses, explicitly referencing the ancient Chaldeans and Zoroastrians (52).German esotericists and Christian Kabbalist, Johanne Reuchlin's On the Cabalistic Art (1517) is an outstanding example of "oriental" influence as it is written as a three way dialogue on Kabbalah between a Pythagorean (Greek), a Muslim (Arabic/Zoroastrian), and a Jew (Hebrew), showing all three in a favorable light (53).Many Kabbalists, like Guillame Postel and others, had highly developed linguistic skills in both Hebrew and Arabic, while other Jewish esotericists read Arabic as well (54).
A variety of "oriental" references appear in the writings of Henry Cornelius Agrippa, specifically in De Occulta Philosophia (1531), such as references to the Chaldeans (Iran) and Muslims (Arabians and Mohammadeans, Islamic concepts of soul), the Buddha (in connection with virgin birth and as a magician),
the Indian Gymnosophists (naked ascetics) and Bragmanni (Brahmans, having many occult teachings and esoteric lore), India (with certain plants and as derived from the union of male and female animal as in the Upanishads), reincarnation as explicitly taught by the "wise men of India" and of rebirth as "recompense in accordance with his former life" (karma) (55).Here we can see the synthesis of a variety of esoteric Eastern ideas in a primary compendium that was central to Western Esotericism. Increasingly esotericists, like John Dee (d. 1608), would seek knowledge of "oriental wisdom" in the hope of assembling a concordia mundi of world beliefs and "occult mysteries of the east" (stimulated by voyages of global circumnavigation) (56). Echoes of this attitude can be seen in the story of the foundation of the Rosicrucians. Published in the Fama Fraternitatis (1612), it tells of the story of Christian Rosencreuz (1378-1484), the mysterious founder of the order who at a young age travels to the "orient" to study magic and alchemy in Damascus, Egypt and Fez and who returns through Spain where he studies Spanish Jewish Kabbalah. In Germany he founds a secret brotherhood based in these teachings, and at his death is placed into a remarkable tomb that was then opened in 1604 and which contained several sacred books that became the basis for Rosicrucian teachings (57).Many of the teachings of the later Masonic organizations also carry within them an increasing mix of Arabic, Jewish, Templar, and other "oriental" influences (58).
Esoteric and Eastern Interactions in the 19th Century
In turn, this brings us back to the developments of the 16th through the 18th centuries in Europe (noted above) as increasing texts, teachings, and Asian visitors become more and more apparent in the European and the American cultural scene. The underground history of "oriental" influences in European esotericism is increasingly infused with greater representation of Eastern religious thought which continues to strongly impact 19th and 20th century esoteric thought. In America, a key note is struck in the publication of Joseph Priestley's A Comparison of the Institutes of Moses with those of the Hindoo and other Ancient Nations (1799) which not only discusses Hindu religious ideas but also introduces the importance of Native American and Siberian beliefs (59).
Another equally important early publication, characterizing American interests in a wide variety of religious traditions, is Hannah Adams' A View of Religions (1801), describing Asian religions with emphasis on Hinduism. In the Preface she writes that she hopes "to avoid giving preference of one denomination over another, to give arguments of the principle sects from their own authors . . . [and] not to misrepresent their ideas," thereby establishing some admirable criteria for the exploration of world religions (60). By the 1820s in America, Ralph Waldo Emerson was beginning to make journal entries on Hindu religions based on his initial readings of English translations of Sanskrit like those of Wilkins and Jones.
In Europe, these same translations were also making an impact in France and Germany. Goethe's natural science and alchemy was certainly impacted by his study of Persian and he sought the "first mandates of God" in India (61).The German Romantic Naturphilosophie movement, a central influence on Western Esotericism, was certainly affected by the new translations of Indic materials. The poet and esoteric novelist of magical idealism Friedrich Leopold von Hardenberg (Novalis), the philosopher Friedrich W. J. Schelling who wrote on the unity of spirit and nature, and the literary historian Friedrich von Schlegel, author of Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Inder (1808, On the Language and Wisdom of the Indian) and leader of the German romantic movement, all contributed to esoteric thought and were also profoundly influenced by Indian literature and philosophy. It was Friedrich von Schlegel who coined the popular term "Oriental Renaissance" (1803) to describe the impact of Asian and Indic philosophy on early 19th century European intellectuals and esotericists which he described as "a sun in comparison to the weak spark of Western Idealism." These authors shared a common esoteric interest in India as a source for a "primordial tradition" (philosophia perennis) or a "universal revelation" that could be reconstructed to counter rising emphasis on rational materialism (62).
Georg W. F. Hegel's lectures and writings on Indian religions also continued to popularize Eastern philosophical ideas and in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy (1826) he discussed "Orientalische Philosophie" (a brief survey of Chinese religions, Hinduism, and Buddhism) (63).
By mid-century, Arthur Schopenhauer's Die welt als wille und vorstellung (1819, The World as Will and Idea) had become popular and referenced the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita and noted Buddhist "pre-eminence" as a philosophical system over all other systems while it "bristles with Indian ideas" (64).Schopenhauer, who kept a bust of Kant and a statue of the Buddha on his desk, began studying Indian philosophy at 25 when he was given 50 Upanishads in translation by orientalist Friedrich Maier. He wrote that the New Testament had probable Indian origins and that Jesus had been taught Egyptian wisdom that had been learned from India (as in Philostratus) (65). In the 1844 republication of his work Schopenhauer appended a second volume in which he favorably compares Vedanta philosophy with the esoteric writings of hermeticist Giordano Bruno, alchemist Raymond Lull, theosophist Jacob Boehme, the quietist mystic Jeanne-Marie Guyon and various Sufi teachings (66). In Switzerland, Richard Wagner was in exile (1854) and read Schopenhauer's work (five times in nine months!), which awoke his lifelong interest in Buddhism. German scholars like Hermann Oldenberg were translating and publishing Buddhist texts from Pali by 1879 and by 1881, a text based life of Buddha was available (67). And Friedrich Nietzsche wrestled with esoteric Iranian influences as well as Schopenhauer's Buddha, rejecting him ironically while still applauding Buddhism as "a hundred times more realistic than Christianity" (68).
In France, Voltaire gave the Bibiothèque du Roi a French translation of a Vedic commentary, L'Ezour-Vedam ou Ancien commentaire du Vedam, given to him by a French knight recently returned from India; this publication (1778) was very popular in Europe (69).Also in 1779 Jean-Sylvain Bailly published Lettres sur l'Atlantide de Platon et sur l'ancienne histoire des peubles de l'Asie, linking the Atlantis of Plato with ancient India, a popular esoteric construct (70).
Illuminist esotericists like Joseph de Maistre (1782) recognized the importance of Indic studies, particularly in relationship to Masonic ideas, which were at this time undergoing revision. Many of the Masonic lodges "took an interest in the philosophic and esoteric aspects of the Indic discovery." (71).In 1784 Antoine Court de Géblin, building on Fabre d'Olivet's "study of the three mother tongues of Hebrew, Sanskrit and Chinese," published Le Monde Primitif Analysé et Comparé avec le Monde Moderne, a seminal work on the of concept of an ancient and universal "primordial tradition." In 1792 the famous esotericist Louis-Claude de Saint-Martian published Le Nouvel Homme and later Le Ministère de L'Homme-Espirit, works strongly influenced by Indic ideas. Saint-Martain explicitly draws connections, as did the esotericist Pierre-Simon Ballanche, between the ideas of illuminism, theosophy, and the literature of India (72).By 1795 Abraham Anquetil-Duperron had published his second volume of 50 Oupnek'hat (Upanishads, first volume in 1787), translated from the Persian, which became very popular and a primary source for esotericists (73).
By the early 19th century, the Collége de France added its first professor of Sanskrit (Léonard de Chézy, 1814, followed by Burnouf, 1832) and Chinese (Abel Rémusat, 1815, who also wrote extensively on the "Oriental imagination"). In 1817 esotericist Félicité Robert de Lamennais published his Essai sur l'indiffërence en matière de religion filled with references to Jones, Asiatik Researches, the Upanishads, and the Zoroastrian Avesta. Charles Nodier, an esoteric poet and writer, published Adèle (1820), synthesizing Indian ideas of transmigration and reincarnation with those of other French illuminist writers (74).In 1823, Rémusat published his Mémoire sur la vie et les opinions de Lao-Tseu, a work on Lao-tzu and classical Chinese Taoism (75).In 1823 Joseph-Marie, Baron de Gérando published his Histoire comparée des systèmes de philosophie, considérés relativement aux principes des connaissances humaines providing a popular compendium of comparative religious and spiritual ideas. In 1832, Rammohun Roy, the Hindu-Muslim reformer and founder of the Brahmo Samaj (Church of the Supreme Being) as a "universal tradition," was very well received in Paris (76).
Kabbalist Adolphe Franck (1843) was an outspoken proponent of the "oriental renaissance" and its revelation of a "universal tradition" preceding the rise of Kabbalah (77).Even hostile writers such as esotericist Alphonse-Louis Constant (Eliphas Lévi) while criticizing the teachings of the Hindu Gymnosophists (1856), simultaneously borrowed select Indic ideas (78).
In the mid-19th century, Buddhism in France was articulated through the works of Eugène Burnouf who published his Essai sur le Pali (1826), as the first Pali grammer in Europe (79).In 1837 Burnouf (who founded the Société Asiatique) received 64 Sanskrit texts from Brian Hodgson gathered from Nepalese monasteries. Burnouf began translating the Sanskrit into French, and published Introduction à l'histoire du Buddhism Indien (1844), the first great French scholarly work on Buddhism which established the Indian origins of Buddhism, emphasized a textual approach to Eastern religions, and made Buddhism into an object of western scientific knowledge. Burnouf died in 1852, the year his translation of the Lotus Sutra (containing other sutras as well) was released to the public (80).In 1865, Gustave D'Eichthal published his Etude sur les Origines Bouddhiques de la Civilization Américaine in which he theorizes a Buddhist influence on Maya Indian culture in American, a popular esoteric idea. A life of the Buddha was published by Senart, Essai sur la légende du Buddha (1875) in Asiatick Researches, discussing various earlier legendary elements of the solar Chakravartin archetype as preceding the life of Buddha. Senart published on Buddhist inscriptions and, as Louis de La Vallée Poussin (Bouddhisme, etudes et matériaux, 1898), wrote on popular Buddhism and the yogic and tantra derivations of Buddhism (81). And in 1890, the Russian emigré Nichols Notovitch published his Le Vie Inconnu (The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, from an ancient manuscript, recently discovered in a Buddhist monastery in Thibet), popularizing the idea of a post-resurrection life of Jesus in India (published in English in 1894) (82).
In England, following the work of Jones, Wesleyan missionary Benjamin Clough published A Compendious Pali Grammar (1824) and F. C. G. Schroeter translated Della Penna's Tibetan dictionary
(A Dictionary of Bhotanta, 1826), providing resources for the English translation of Buddhist texts. By 1828, Brian Hodges as Assistant Resident to the court of Nepal with the collaborative efforts of a Nepalese scholar, published "A Sketch of Buddhism Derived from Bauddha Writings of Nepal" and collected 423 Sanskrit texts which he sent to various libraries in Europe and England (83).Beginning in the 1830s many Indian expatriots began to arrive in England, exemplified by Rammohun Roy's visit in 1833; Roy died in England and his grave (in Bristol) became a shrine for many esotericists interested in Indian philosophy (84). By mid-century, Spence Hardy had published his popular A Manual of Modern Buddhism (1853) based on Pali texts, including a life of the Buddha. In 1856, Max Müller published his classic Essay on Comparative Mythology (1856) in which he uses solar myth as a means to explain ancient Vedic and Buddhist religions and James Fergusson published his comparative work on Tree and Serpent Worship (1868) with many references to Eastern religious traditions (85).
In 1870, Hargrave Jennings published Rosicrucians, Their Rites and Mysteries and in 1890 The Indian Religions in which he discusses Indian beliefs and philosophy in comparison with many Rosicrucian teachings, suggesting the universal and ancient roots of all esotericism. The 1890 volume is an amazing amalgamation of Middle Eastern and Indian ideas constantly in search of interconnections within Western Esotericism and such subjects as magic, alchemy, Templars, magnetism, sleep and dreams, theosophy, and modern science (86). In 1875, Max Müller began to publish his 51 volume collection of Sacred texts of the East (completed in 1904) providing an encyclopedic collection of texts from all major world religions in English. In 1879 Sir Edwin Arnold published his Light of Asia, a loose translation of the Indian Lalita Vistara (5th c. Sanskrit) which was extremely popular in both England and America, selling over 750,000 copies; in 1885 Arnold also published The Song Celestial (Bhagavad Gita), another popular influence (87).In 1881, Thomas Rhys-Davids, a lifelong scholar of Buddhism, having published a life of the Buddha (1877), formed the Pali Text Society, dedicated to publishing the entire Buddhist Pali canon.
In 1894, Max Müller published his Three Lectures on the Vedanta Philosophy in which he compares Indian philosophy with Greek Neoplatonism and German philosophical theosophy.
In America, in the 1840s, a Swendenborgian wave of interest in the occult and spiritual realms combined with interests in Mesmerism as well as indigenous and Eastern ideas (like reincarnation) and led to the formation and rapid spread of Spiritualism. Various channel mediums also formed groups which proclaimed messages using symbols and concepts drawn from "Kabbalah, Hinduism, Neo-Gnosticism, and Christianity." By 1850 there were over 150 Spiritualist circles in New York state alone, drawing heavily on esoteric ideas east and west as well as having a highly eclectic interest is shamanic, native guides and spirits (88). During this same period, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau began publishing "Ethnical Scriptures" in The Dial, printing English translations of Hindu and Buddhist scriptures and literature. American Transcendentalism was profoundly affected by such English translations as those of Wilkins and Jones and led Thoreau to compare the love of Christ to the compassion of the Buddha and to reference the Bagavad Gita and other "oriental writings". Emerson also wrote on "oriental philosophies" such as Vedanta, Confucianism, and Buddhism a subject admirably studied and researched by Arthur Versluis (89).Also in the late 1840s, Chinese immigrants began to flood into California bringing Buddhism and Taoism into the railroad and mining camps. By 1853 the first Chinese temple was built in San Francisco and by 1900 there were over 400 such temples stretched along the American west coast, mixing popular Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism with the worship of Kuan Yin and Amitabha (90).
In 1863, Warren Evans went to visit Phineas Quimbley, a New England healer and Mesmerist and when healed, Evans went on to link Quimbley's healing ability with Swendenborgian theories, thus initiating the New Thought Movement which also had strong interests in Eastern ideas as well as European theosophy.
This movement culminated in the work of Mary Baker Eddy, a student of Quimbley's, in her Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (1875), also expressing Eastern ideas (91).It was during this period that Paschal Randolph formed an American Rosicrucian group, also influenced by "oriental ideas" and European theosophical thought. From this point forward, American Rosicrucian and Masonic orders display varying degrees of interest and influence from Asian and Islamic thought, particularly H. Spence Lewis' AMORC (1921), the largest of the American Rosicrucian orders (92).In 1871, James Freeman Clarke published Ten Great Religions, plus numerous popular articles which, while imposing Christian ideas on a romanticized view of Buddhism and other Eastern religions, became a popular source for esotericists. Also in the same year, John Weiss published American Religion, drawing heavily on world religions and wrote against dogmatism, emphasizing the universality in all traditions (93).And in 1875, folklorist Charles Leland publishes Fu-Sang or the Discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist Priests in the Fifth Century (supporting De Guignes, 1761) and in 1885 Edward Vining publishes the 800 page An Inglorious Columbus also asserting the Chinese discovery of America (94).
In the banner year of 1875, Henry Steel Olcott and Russian psychic Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (HPB) formed, in New York City along with William Judge, the Theosophical Society as a "universal brotherhood" dedicated to studying ancient and modern religions (east and west) as well as the latent psychic powers in humanity (95).After traveling extensively, in India, Tibet, and Egypt, Blavatsky claimed direct guidance from ascended Indian and Tibetan adepts and spiritual masters who gave her the keys to her theosophical teachings. The Theosophical Society was the organization most responsible for the popularization of Eastern teachings among esotericists in both Europe and America. Blavatsky published many works synthesizing esoteric and eastern teachings with various elaborations of human psychic history. The Society was immensely popular and had branches in England, Germany, France, Russia, Greece, and India; the first edition of Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled (1877) sold out in nine days (96).Olcott, in 1885, published his A Buddhist Catechism which was translated into all European languages as well as into Prakrit and Japanese.
In 1879 Olcott and Blavatsky visited India and met English esotericist A. P. Sinnett who published Esoteric Buddhism (1883) in which he claims "the cause of Theosophy was identical to the cause of the Buddhist revival" in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Sinnett went on to publish many articles and books on theosophy and its connections with Eastern religions (97).In 1880, Blavatsky and Olcott took five (lay) vows at a Buddhist temple in Galle, Ceylon, taking refuge in the Buddha as the first westerners and esotericists to embrace Theravada Buddhism. In 1882, the Indian Theosophical Society was moved from Bombay to Adyar, where it is still active to the present. Olcott was invited to Japan (1888) by the Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land) Buddhists where he gave over 75 lectures on Buddhism and Theosophy, contributing to rising interests in Japanese esotericism; in the same year American writer Perceval Lowell published his popular The Soul of the Far East and in 1894, Occult Japan, specifically on "esoteric Shinto" (98).
In 1893, The World Parliament of Religions was held at the Chicago World Fair, Columbian Exposition, which drew together many liberal Christian intellectuals with representatives of many different Eastern religious traditions. This event was attended by: Swami Vivekananda, a very popular speaker from the Ramakishna Mission; Anagarika Dharmapala (David Hewivitarne, the half-Ceylonese founder of the Ceylonese Mahabodhi Society, 1891, formed under the guidance of Olcott and Blavatsky); B. B. Nagarkar (from the Brahmo Samaj); Soyen Shaku (Zen Rinzai priest), and many other Chinese and Japanese monks and priests. From this date we can mark the rapid growth of Eastern religious thought and cultural influences in America, in England and in Europe, increasingly proselytized by the ethnic practitioners of the various religions. Also in 1893, The National Spiritualist Association of Churches was formed along with over 50 other spiritualist's organizations, all of which placed varying degrees of emphasis on both Eastern ideas and American Indigenous traditions (99).
In 1896, Swami Vivekanda, having found many followers interested in Hinduism and esotericism, established the The Vedanta
Society in New York City; additional centers were also formed in other American cities. The Ramakrishna Math of San Francisco was responsible for building the first Hindu temple in America (1906), with an attendant monastic community (100).Also 1896, Anagarika Dharmapala (the Ceylonese esotericist) and Paul Carus, the German immigrant founder of the comparative religions and science journal The Monist (1887), established the American Buddhist Maha-Bodhi Society, in Chicago, and hired D.T. Suzuki to work with him as a Japanese translator of Buddhist texts and as interpreter for Rinzai Master Soyen Shaku's American speaking tour (1906). Suzuki also manifested his interest in Western Esotericism when he later translated Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell (1910) into Japanese and then wrote a "Buddhist" analysis of Swedenborg in Swedenborg, Buddha of the North (1915) (101). In 1898, two Japanese priests of the Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land) established the Young Men's Buddhist Association in San Francisco, one of the first authentic Buddhist organizations in America, later known as Buddhist Churches in America (1945) (102).
Twentieth Century Esoteric and Eastern Interactions
Following the death of Blavatsky (1891), Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater became the leaders of the European Section of the Theosophical Society, placing strong emphasis on Indian ideas, mixed with western occultism. In 1907 Besant became the international leader of the Theosophical Society and later became President of the Indian National Congress. In 1894, 75 of the American branches of the Theosophical Society ceeded and formed The American Theosophical Society (ATS, 1885) under William Judge (103).In 1898, Katherine Tingley became the head of the ATS and formed a utopian society at Point Loma Linda in California, integrating Western esoteric and Eastern ideas into a communal way of life (104).In 1915, Alice Bailey joined the California Theosophical Society and published Initiation: Human and Solar (and many others), after claiming guidance from Blavatsky's Tibetan Adept, Djwhal Khul, and later founded the Arcane School (1923), again mixing Western esoteric ideas with Eastern religious teachings (105).
In 1886, Warren Evans, a Swedenborgian minister published Esoteric Christianity and Mental Therapeutics synthesizing his teachings with Hindu religious concepts (106).In 1887, Swendenborgian Carl Herman Vetterling (known by the Tibetan pseudonym of Phalangi Das) founded the Buddhist Ray journal in Santa Cruz, California, and published Swedenborg the Buddhist, of the Higher Swedenborgianism, Its Secrets and Thibetan Origin, consisting of a long esoteric conversation between a Buddhist, a Brahmin, a Parsi, a Chinese, an Aztec, an Icelander and "a woman" (107).
In Europe, the Theosophical Society generated increasing popular interest in Eastern teachings, particularly Hindu and Buddhist ideas among esotericists. For example in 1902, Rudolph Steiner was appointed as General Secretary of the German Section of the Theosophical Society and Steiner's 1904 publication, Theosophy, shows clear Eastern influences. When Steiner resigned from the Society after giving a lecture following Annie Besant entitled "From Buddha to Christ" (1909), he then formed the Anthroposophical Society (1912) which retained many of the Theosophical Society's Eastern ideas (108).In 1911, a European branch of the Ceylonese Maha Bodhi Society was founded in Leipzig. In 1915, Georg Grimm published his popular Die Lehre des Buddha (The Doctrines of the Buddha, translated into English in 1926) and in co-founded Buddhistische Gemeinde für Deutschland (Buddhist Community for Germany) in Munich, which was closed by the Nazis in 1933. In 1924, Paul Dalke found the first German Buddhist center in Berlin, Das Buddhistische Haus, which is still highly active today. In 1928, Ernst Hoffmann (Lama Anagarika Govinda) traveled to Sri Lanka to join Nyanatiloka, another German emigré-monk, and later traveled to Tibet where he was eventually ordained. In 1933, Govinda formed Arya Maitreya Mandala, Western Buddhist Order which he later popularized in Europe (109).
In France, Thesophy also made an impact. As early as 1882, the Dutchess de Pomar (Lady Caithness) formed La Société Théosophique d'Orient et d'Occident as a result of her corresèpondences with Olcott, Blavatsky and Gérard Encausse (Papus) (110).
In 1911, Annie Besant with the young Kishnamurti (then 16) gave a lecture at the Sorbonne on Giordano Bruno as "Theosophy's Apostle," which over 4,000 attended. By 1919, Masaharu Anesaki from Imperial University of Tokyo was teaching Zen Buddhism in the Collège de France (111). Krishnamurti was recognized (1909) as the incarnation of the Buddha to come, Maitreya, but he rejected this title in 1929 when he broke away from the Theosophical Society. The greatest French popularizer of Buddhist ideas, and their similarity to esoteric thought, was Alexandra David-Neel who returned in 1925 with her adopted Tibetan son Yongden from Lhasa and who was invited to give many lectures throughout Europe. She published many popular books on Buddhism with constant references to Western Esoteric thought, such as Mystiques et magiciens du Thibet (Magic and Mystery in Tibet, English 1932) and Intiations lamaïques; des théories, des pratiques des hommes (Initiations and Initiates of Tibet), 1930 (112). Simultaneously, French scholars began publication of Bibliographie Bouddhique (1928), a primary French source for Buddhist studies of all types and La Vallée Poussin published Le dogme et la philosophie du Bouddhisme (1930) and in 1931 finished his translation of L'Abbidharmakosha de Vasubandhu, in six volumes, on Yogacara Buddhism. Similar interest in Buddhism was also developing in England where L. A. Waddell, a Christian missionary, published The Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism, first English work on Tibetan Buddhism.
In England, Maurice Portman founded the Grande Lamaistic Order of Light (Fratres Lucis, 1882) blending Kabbalah and Hindu teachings under the influence of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, author of the occult Rosicrucian novel Zanoni (1842) and also Vice-Roy to India. In 1884 Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland, originally members of the Theosophical Society formed the Hermetic Society, which according to esotericist René Guenon, is a mixture of Christianity and Buddhism (113). Also, the Order of the Golden Dawn (MacGregor Mathers and later A. E. Waite), Stella Matutina (Aleister Crowley), and Karl Kellner's Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) were all influenced by the upsurge of interest stimulated by the popularity of the Thesophical Society and incorporated Indian and Buddhist ideas into their esotericism.
In 1913, A. P. Sinnett published Nature's Mysteries, and How Theosophy Illuminates Them, heavily influenced by HBP and Eastern Theosophical ideas; a few years later (1923) A. T. Baker edited and published The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. & K. H., the written record of teachings transmitted by "Tibetan Adepts" through letters to Sinnett after his contact with Blavatsky. In 1933, Lady Queenborough (Edith Starr Miller) wrote her Occult Theocrasy (which she defines as "mingling of various deities") which is a remarkable synthesis of eastern-western esoteric traditions and a brief survey of many esoteric groups impacted by these ideas.
In 1924, Christmas Humphreys attended the first meeting of the "London Buddhist League" and voluntarily formed a "center" within the English Theosophical Society with friends and later that year formed the Buddhist Lodge of the Theosophical Society with himself as President (114). In many European Theosophical branches, eastern religious ideas and often Buddhism were acting to transform esotericism into an increasingly "Eastern" theosophy with diminishing references to Christianity. By 1926, Humphreys and his Lodge broke with the Theosophical Society "to study, disseminate, and live the principles of Buddhism" and that same year the Ceylonese Buddhist-Theosophist revivalist Anagarika Dharmapala came to England and founded the British Maha Bodhi Society. In the 1930s, members of the Buddhist Lodge produced Concentration and Mediation (1935) an early English volume on mediation edited by Humphreys; and members purchased from G. R. S. Mead's estate a small golden Buddha (Mead had clear interests in Eastern religions) thought to have once belonged to Blavatsky (115).In 1936, Alan Watts (then 21) met D. T. Suzuki at the London World Congress of Faiths and later took over the editorship of the Buddhist Lodge journal, Buddhism in England. Watts became an ardent student and synthesizer of eastern and western esoteric ideas and a devotee of Zen Buddhism (116).
In America, another major Eastern influence on the spiritual scene was the influx of Muslim immigrants into major American cities
starting in the 1890s and the formation of chapters of the Iranian Baha'i faith (1894) in the American southeast, particularly influential among African-American communities (117).In 1910, Pir-O-Murshid Inayat Khan, who combined Indian Chistiyyah Sufism and Hindu Vedanta as well as various eastern musical traditions, visited America and established the Sufi Order in the West (returning in 1923 and 1925). This order became increasingly popular and has synthesized many esoteric traditions of Hinduism, Sufism, and Western Esotericism (118).In 1913, Timothy Drew (Noble Drew Ali) formed the Moorish American Science Temple in Newark New Jersey, combining various esoteric and Muslim ideas into an initatic society (119).The first Islamic center was formed in Michigan City, Indiana, and another in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1914 and supported many growing Muslim communities in other American cities. At the end of World War II, many more Muslim immigrants from India and Pakistan entered America, leading to the establishment of the Islamic Center in Washington D. C. (1950s) and setting the scene for the importation of various schools of esoteric Sufism, such as the Khalwattiyyah-Jerrahiyyah (Turkish) Orders (NYC), the Nimatullahis, and many others (120).
In 1911, the Radha Soami Satsang established various chapters in the America based on Hindu sound yoga and a variety of esoteric ideas, and these centers were later developed by Kirpal Singh (a Radha Soami master) in a large center in New York. In 1912, the first Indian Sikh temple was built in Stockton California and these temples spread up the west coast and later into other American cities (121).In 1920, Swami Yogananda, a Hindu esotericist very interested in the synthesis of Eastern and Western thought, came to America to attend the International Congress of Religious Liberals and stayed three years to found an Ashram. In 1935, he established the Self-Realization Fellowship (Los Angeles), built a Hindu temple in San Diego and the Church of All Religions in Hollywood; the Fellowship is still highly active today and teaches a synthesis of esoteric ideas, as illustrated in his Autobiography of a Yogi (1946). In 1923, Swami Paramananda (Ramakrishna Math) established the American Ananda Ashram and Temple of the Universa
Spirit, also in Los Angeles; and Swami Pravabhananda established the Vedanta Society of Southern California (1930) which he presided over until his death in 1976. Both of these orders have promoted study and active participation in esoteric thought from a wide variety of spiritual traditions. In 1923 Harriette and Homer Curtiss founded "The Order of Christian Mystics" and published The Key to the Universe (1919) and The Key to Destiny (1923), books which combine Hindu religious ideas with Christian esotericism. Paul Foster Case founded Builders of the Adytum (BOTA) in 1927, also borrowing ideas from Sufism and Hinduism.
In 1924 G. I Gurdjieff arrived in America with about 40 student from his Paris Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, and gave many demonstrations of his esoteric techniques and "sacred movements" (meditative dance and music). Gurdjieff's teachings combine many Sufi, Kabbalistic, and Eastern and Western esoteric ideas into his own unique synthesis. In 1930, he established with O. R. Orage, an American Branch of his Institute, leading to the eventual formation of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York (1955) with other centers in major American cities. The year of Gurdjieff's death (1949), one of his foremost followers, Russian esotericist Peter Ouspensky published his In Search of the Miraculous, a synthesis of Gurdjieff's teachings which was very popular and reprinted many times (122). Also in 1930, Guy Ballard had a visionary experience on Mt Shasta, California, as recorded in Unveiled Mysteries (1934), and founded the I AM movement which combines New Thought and Blavatsky Theosophy. Ballard was probably influenced by Baird Spalding's series of works entitled The Life and Teachings of the Master of the Far East (1924) another pastiche of east-west esoteric synthesis (123).In the same year, the Brotherhood of the White Temple was formed in Denver Colorado by Doreal a "long time student of occultism" and synthesizes many esoteric traditions from Kabalah and Buddhism. And Rosicrucian S. R. Parchment, member of the San Francisco Rosicrucian Fellowship (started by German immigrant Carl Grasshof after a mystical encounter in 1908) published The Middle Path - The Safest, a popular blend of Rosicrucian and Buddhist ideas (124).
In 1931, Meher Baba, the Hindu-Sufi mystic and teacher arrived in America which led to the establishment of his primary center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, still active today. Also 1931 was the year Edgar Cayce founded the Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) as the "sleeping prophet" of America, combining esoteric Christianity and theosophy with key eastern ideas such as reincarnation and karma. In New York City in the same year, the Buddhist Rinzai priest Sokei-an (a student of Soyen Shaku) established the Buddhist Society of America attracting many followers of esoteric traditions, including later Sufi teacher Samuel Lewis, and American esotericist G. Manly Hall, who founded the east-west Philosophical Research Society and Library of Los Angeles, and the popular writer on Zen and esoteric ideas, Alan Watts, newly married and just come to America (125). In 1938, W. Y. Evans-Wentz and Dwight Goddard published the very popular Buddhist Bible (also containing a copy of the Tao Te Ching).
Global Esotericism and the Future
By mid-century, Eastern religions were pervasive in the American cultural scene impacting the entire development of "esotericism" which increasingly came to be associated with Eastern teachers and movements. In the popular sense, esotericism in America has retained a very strong connection with Eastern religions, constantly impacted by the continual immigration of Eastern teachers into America. Many popular writers, like Aldous Huxley ( The Perennial Philosophy, 1945; Vedanta for Modern Man, 1954; and The Doors of Perception, 1951) have supported this Eastern connection with the philosophia perennis of Western Esotericism in Europe. By 1947, the Independence of India from Britain was established, impacted by Gandhi and his east-west synthesis and teachings on non-violence, and led to the formation of many Hindu auxiliary movements in America, including the formation of the first Hindu women's monastic Sarada Convent (126).In 1957 Sri Subramuniya founded the American Saiva Siddhanta Church (Hawaii, Nevada,
and California), also a popular movement in Europe, which promotes an east-west synthesis of esoteric ideas. The increasing popularity of Zen led to the publication of an eclectic mix of "Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen" (Alan Watts, 1958) including publications by Gary Snyder (Cold Mountain Poems), Jack Kerouac (Dharma Bums), and other beat-generation writers who were redefining popular religions in America (127).In 1959, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi arrived in San Francisco from Japan to head the San Francisco Soto temple Sokoji and whose Dharma-heirs became a major influence in American Buddhism (128).
In 1945 Mark Prophet founded the Inner Circle Kethra E'Da Foundation, based on trance mediumship received from three disincarnate adepts, Alfred Luntz (Anglican minister), Raymond Natall (a contemporary of Gallileo) and Yada di Shi'ite (from an ancient civilization of the Himalaya's). Prophet taught reincarnation as central to earthly existence and the gradual advance to higher states of consciousness through multiple lifetimes, an esoteric teaching clearly influenced by Hindu ideas (129).In 1951, the Astra Foundation was started by Robert and Evelyn Chaney who claimed communication with Koot Hoomi, the Tibetan adept guide of Blavatsky, and which mixed Spiritualism, Theosophy, Yoga, and Christianity with various Hermetic ideas (130). In 1958, Prophet formed the Summit Lighthouse which later became the Church Universal and Triumphant under the direction of his wife, Elizabeth Claire Prophet (1974), also known as "Guru Ma" and a strong proponent and popularizer of east-west esotericism (131).In 1959, John Bennett, the head of Gurdjieff movement in England, sponsored Muhammud Subud (Bapak) on a visit to America which initiated the Subud Movement in America, eventually leading to its separation from the followers of Gurdjieff. Subud is a mix of Indonesian Sufism and esoteric theories of healing and inner transformation and by 1972 had over 70 centers (132).
In 1965, Paul Twitchell (Paulji) founded Eckankar (similar to Radha Soami) and claims to be 971st incarnation or Mahanta of an ancient Eck master, combining many eastern and western esoteric ideas.
In 1966, Stephen Gaskin began giving his "Monday night talks" in San Francisco, synthesizing a variety of esoteric ideas with a "back-to-the-land" ethic, resulting in the eventual formation of The Farm (TN), an alternative spiritual community. In 1967, at the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco, Abraham Maslow, borrowing heavily from eastern ideas, initiated the beginning of Transpersonal Psychology which has continued to draw on and to inform esoteric thought in America and to do scientific testing on advanced practitioners of Eastern esotericism (133).In 1968, Joan Gibson formed the Church of Inner Wisdom, combining the teaching of New Thought with emphasis on psychic abilities, "macro-ontology," and the teachings of various prophets and leaders of world traditions (134).During the 1970s, Counter-cultural movements in American and Europe led many to embrace western esoteric and eastern ideas or practices and to positively engage with other cultures. A single memorable example is the 1971 publication by Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) of his Be Here Now, Remember, an extremely popular text outlining his trip to India and giving a poetic rendition of new insights into an east-west synthesis and esotericism.
From this point forward, the mix of Eastern, Middle Eastern, Western esoteric ideas are too rich and complex to trace in this article. Overall, there have been many hundreds of years of interaction and influence from Eastern religions that have deeply impacted esoteric thought in both Europe and America. In this process of recontextualizing esotericism, the influences of a global ecumenicism cannot be ignored. A strictly "Western" approach to esotericism can only limit the perspective by which esoteric and spiritual practitioners are increasingly affected by currents quite beyond the normative history of European esotericism. The very construction of "esotericism" as European is deeply problematic, even though there is without doubt a genuine history of esotericism on the European continent, particularly in its problematic rapprochement with Christianity. However, such a history is far less significant in the American occult and esoteric scene (135).Increasingly, the structural contents of contemporary
American esoteric thought are being borrowed from highly diverse sources, particularly Eastern religions which have become increasingly popular and widespread. The entire "new age" movement is largely a deconstruction of normative, exoteric Christianity through a process of gradual acceptance of Eastern teachings, many of which are highly esoteric. For example, Tibetan Buddhism has increasingly influenced both American and Europeans through the formation of various institutions, monasteries, and popular teachers who give open seminars on Tantra, teach meditation, hold empowerment ceremonies, and instruct Westerners in various esoteric arts or practices (136).
This constant impact and influence of Eastern ideas and beliefs, the vast library of traditional texts, teachings, and religious interaction and reformulation all contribute to a growing ecumenicism in esoteric thought. A comprehensive history of esotericism in America has yet to be written, but that history will be inseparable from the tremendous international immigration of religious nationals from all cultures of the world to America. The rich pluralism of American religions has long acted as a stimulus for creative thought which has repeatedly combined Western esoteric ideas of European origins with Eastern teachings and indigenous traditions in a ferment of imaginative speculations and New Age experimentations. Christianity has by no means escaped this ferment and many of the groups noted above have propagated highly esoteric versions of Christianity hardly noticed by mainstream orthodox Christian organizations. Well-recognized American scholars like Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale, Harold Bloom, have written that America religions are characterized by a two hundred year undercurrent of Gnostic and Hermetic ideas (137) Freed from a history of persecution and liminality, allowed to flourish in an open and permissive social context, and able to draw on the vast pluralism of world religions and spiritual traditions, contemporary American esotericism will continue to evolve new models that will absorb cosmological and scientific discoveries into its philosophical discourses.
As mentioned in the earlier part of this essay, the global future of esotericism is not and cannot be bound by its relationship to any particular religious tradition or institutions. The history of increasing religious pluralism on a global scale reflects an opening of intellectual and spiritual horizons which can only result in an increasing complexity in future conceptualization of "esotericism". Scholarship in this area need to address itself to a greater analysis of the multi-traditional influences that have impacted the formative history of esotericism in both Europe and America. Further, the impact of this cross fertilization has also impacted thought and perception in the religious cultures of India, Japan, and southeast Asia (and somewhat less, China). The influence is not only one way, but part of a greater international exchange, starting in the nineteenth century with ideas that have profoundly affected Eastern thinkers like Aurobindo or Gandhi or the Dalai Lama and certainly has affected the many Eastern teachers that have emigrated to western countries. In the process, the very core concepts of Eastern religions are changing and evolving, as are the esoteric teachings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In such dynamic circumstance, the liminal group or the creative individual who is not part of a particular religious tradition has an incredible wealth of materials to draw on in formulating an esoteric view of spirituality. In such a context, the future of esotericism will surely become increasingly global, international, and pluralistic.
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1) Trimmingham 1998: 143. "The Shari'a especially distrusted the claim that Sufism was an esoteric Way, a mystery religion, open to an elect."
2) Borchert, 1994: 229-30.
3. Carmody & Carmody, 1996:167-67.
4. Faivre and Needleman, 1992: 39-40, passim; McIntosh, 1997: 31, passim.
5. See Hanegraaff, Wouter J., 1998: 406ff, who discusses the problem of the secularization of the esoteric.
6. Bruteau, 1996; Norelli-Bachelet, 1994.
7. Lewis and Melton, 1992, passim.
8. See Kalweit, 1992.
9. Harvey, 1997; Lewis, 1996.
10. On the Gaia hypothesis, see Lovelock, 1988; for the Sophianic aspects of world-soul, see Matthews, 1992: 323-328; on the globalization of consciousness, Russell, 1983.
11. Goodison, 1990.
12. Bruchac, 1993.
13. On Peter Deunov, see Lorimer 1991; for Mikhael Aivanhov, see Feuerstein 1998; on Daoist influence see for example, Dong and Esser, 1990.
14. Krishna, 1987.
15. Chopra, 1994.
16. Goleman, 1997.
17. Kear, 1996.
18. Swimme and Berry, 1992.
19. Abraham 1994.
20. Ghose, 1974.
21. Grof 1992; Walsh and Vaughan, 1993.
22. Radha, 1996; Lewis, 1994; Briggs, John and F. David Peat, 1989.
23. Staguhn, 1994; Fox and Sheldrake, 1996.
24. See Edward Said, 1978, passim.
25. Schwab 1984: 24-25; Egyptian influence were not common until the 19th century (Champollion's "système hiéroglyphique" based on his work with the Rosetta stone was published in 1824) and then only in a partial and fragmentary sense.
26. Fields, 1992: 32.
27. Fields, 1992: 24; De Jong 1987: 13-14, published by La Loubère, in Desription du royaume Siam.
28. Schwab 1984: 29-30; Batchelor, 1994: 190-195, 227-228; the Italian Capucian scholar Ippolito Desideri arrived in Lhasa in 1716 and spent six years "studying Thibetan...from early morning to sundown", including a study of the Kangyur (Buddhist canon) and Tengyur (commentaries) at Sera monastery.
29. Fields, 1992: 23-24; Versluis 1993: 17.
30. Schwab 1984: 30-32.
31. Fields, 1992: 25.
32. Fields 1992: 48; De Jong, 1987: 12.
33. Batchelor 1994: 232.
34. Schwab 1984: 39ff.; Fields 1992: 30ff.; Barot in Gill (ed.) 1994: 69; Batchelor, 1995: 232-233.
35. Fields, 1992: 45, 47 where Fields notes that Jones also read the works of Francesco Prazio della Penna, including a study of his Tibetan dictionary; on early ideas of the transcendent unity of religions; also see Versluis 1993, passim.
36. Philostratus, 1970: 77-78, Bk. 3.16.
37. Rudolph, 1983: 326ff., 335, 339.
38. See Stoyanov, 1994: 56ff., who also points to the interactions between the rise and spread of Mahayana Buddhism and the simultaneous popularity of Greco-Roman Mystery religions.
39. Philostratua, 1970: 80-82, Book 3:19; for reincarnation in Plato see, Phaedo 114bc, Cratylus 400bc, Republic 613a-621d, and Timaeus 3.4-5.
40. Filorama 1994: 129-30.
41. Roukema 1999, passim, see index under "reincarnation".
42. Layton, 1987: 133-34, 324, 441, 211; Filoramo 1994: 137.
43. Cobb and Goldwhite, 1995: 64; Holmyard, 1990: 68-86.
44. Holmyard, 1990: 82-86.
45. For Picatrix see Holmyard 1990: 101; Arab influences, Holmyard 1990, passim, and Faivre and Needleman, 1992: 22-26.
46. Stoyanov, 1994: 220-221.
47. Hallamish 1999: 278; Beitchman 1998: 122 where he attributes the doctrine of reincarnation found in the Bahir as "ultimately of Eastern origins" and passed through the Albigensians as a Manichaean-Gnostic teaching.
48. Picknett and Prince 1997, passim.
49. Markale 1999: 143-144.
50. Schimmel 1975: 219.
51. Beitchman 1998: 54-55.
52. Faivre and Needleman 1992: 140; Dan 1997: 57ff.
53. Dan 1997: 59-60, 70.
54. Faivre and Needleman 1992: 145.
55. Tyson, 1998, see Index under topics listed, passim.
56. French 1987: 181.
57. Faivre and Needleman, 1992: 186 ff.; White 1999: 1-11.
58. Schwab 1984: 235ff.
59. Versluis 1993: 40.
60. Jackson 1981: 17, 19.
61. Schwab 1984: 102-103, 211; Faivre and Needleman, 1992, 102.
62. Schwab 1984: 205, 216-19, passim; Faivre 1994: 82 ff.; Versluis 1993: 23; Lopez 1995: 32; Batchelor 1995: 252.
63. Versluis 1993: 26; Vitagappa 1983, passim.
64. Batchelor 1995: 252, 255ff.
65. Batchelor 1995: 256-57.
66. Schwab 1984: 428.
67. De Jong 1987: 31.
68. Batchelor 1994: 260-65.
69. Schwab 1984: 153-54.
70. Schwab 1984: 349.
71. Schwab 1984: 235; Faivre and Needlman, 1992: 263-64; Faivre 1994: 78.
72. Schwab 1984:163, 239-40; Faivre 1994:73-74.
73. Schwab 1984: 158ff, 258.
74. Schwab 1984: 232-33, 323-24.
75. Batchelor 1994: 239, 252; De Jong 1987, 22.
76. Schwab 1984: 232, 244-47; Faivre, 1994: 85.
77. Schwab 1984: 328.
78. Lévi1999: 72-78.
79. Fields 1992: 46-48; De Jong 1987: 13-14, published in Jones' Asiatick Researches.
80. Schwab 1984: 289-295; De Jong 1987: 16-19, 34; Batchelor 1994: 88, 240, 239ff.
81. De Jong 1987: 25-26, 34-36, 43.
82. Notovitch 1894, passim.
83. Lopez 1995: 3-4.
84. Gill 1994 72-73.
85. Lopez 1995: 39, 56; Batchelor 1995: 244; De Jong 1987: 26, 37.
86. Jennings 1870; Jennings 1975.
87. Fields 1992: 68.
88. Ellwood 1987: 13-14; Miller 1995: 331ff.
89. Versluis 1993, 81ff, passim; Fields 1992: 58, 61ff.
90. Fields 1992 p.73-75.
91. Melton 1978: 53; Lewis and Melton 1992: 34-36; Miller 1995: 174, 325-26.
92. Miller 1995: 438; McIntosh 1997 119-136.
93. Versluis 1993: 152-55, 251; Lewis and Melton 1992: 35.
94. Fields 1992: 26.
95. Fields 1992, p.90; Batchelor 1995: 90, 267ff.; Miller 1995: 315ff.
96. Fields 1992 87ff.,90; Miller 1995 315ff.; Faivre and Needleman 1992: 311-318.
97. Fields 1992: 105.
98. Jackson 1981: 206-210;Fields 1992: 108.
99. Melton 1978, Vol 2: 95ff.
100. Lewis and Melton 1992: 49; Ellwood 1987: 36; Miller 1995: 176-77.
101. Richardson 1985: 166; Jackson 1981: 163; Fields 1992: 128, 133ff, 172-73; Lopez 1995: 117ff.; Loy 1995: 6.
102. Richardson 1985: 72, Prebish and Tanaka 1998: 34; Fields 1992: 143ff.
103. Melton 1978 Vol. 2: 141 ff.
104. Faivre and Needleman 1992: 317.
105. Melton 1978, Vol. 2, p.144ff.; Miller 1995: 321, 418.
106. Lewis 1996: 31.
107. Loy 1995: 5; Fields 1992 pp. 130-32.
108. Barnes 1997 pp. 85-89; Miller 1995 418.
109. Batchelor 1995: 92, 99, 315.
110. Queenborough 1933: 542.
111. Batchelor 1995: 271, 318.
112. Batchelor 1995 303-314.
113. Queenborough 1933: 543, 566.
114. Humphreys 1937 pp. 46-51.
115. Humphreys 1968 38-40.
116. Fields 1992: 187; Humphreys 1938: 85, 97.
117. Miller 1995: 236, 243.
118. Kyle 1995: 59 ; Miller 1995: 252ff.
119. MIller 1995: 239.
120. Miller 1995: 256.
121. Ellwood 1987: 39; Crim 1989 p.318-319.
122. Miller 1995 pp. 260-61.
123. Melton 1978 Vol. 2: 155ff.
124. Melton 1978, Vol. 2: 181, 185.
125. Fields 1992: 183, 186-191.
126. Miller 1995: 185.
127. Fields 1992: 220.
128. Fields 1992 pp. 228ff.
129. Melton 1978, Vol. 2: 117.
130. Melton 1978 Vol. 2: 183-84.
131. Miller 1995: 322.
132. Melton 1978 Vol 2: 250-51.
133. Lewis and Melton 1992: 44-45 (302, note 53).
134. Melton 1978 Vol 2: 73.
135. Jorgensen, 1996.
136. Lama Yeshe & Landaw, 1988; the author personally attended his first American lecture series and observed him giving empowerment to American followers in the early 1970s.
137. Bloom 1996, passim, see review in Volume Three (2001) of Esoterica.